A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
When I was younger I never really imagined becoming a father. I was well-trained by my mother, who, having given birth to a nearly 11 pound me at age 19, encouraged her own children, on this one task, to be true procrastinators.
But a few years ago, when Hiromi and I got married, the idea no longer gave me nightmares. I had a rewarding early adulthood, with plenty of opportunity to do crazy and not-so-crazy things.
I went to college, and immersed myself in literature, politics, and examinations of a world beyond the comfortable boundaries of my mostly suburban and rural childhood. I studied in Germany. I traveled to Japan, Korea, England, Ireland, and China. I learned to jog, lost a lot of weight, hurt myself, and gained it back. I ate well. I developed some professional skills, and ran away from that world for a couple of years to try something risky and outside of my comfort zone. Then I came back to software, and was actually better at it the second time around, with less emotional investment in my achievements or professional status. I helped grow a strong, cohesive community of Japanese-speaking people in my little corner of the world. I had developed a relationship with a fantastic woman, who helped me grow in all sorts of ways and made me a far more interesting person. Having a child no longer seemed like some encumbrance on my enjoyment of life… it seemed like a natural step in the evolution of our lives together.
This year, we took that step.
Kojiro joined us at 1:21 pm on September 8, after Hiromi endured a solid 37 hours of labor. He started out slightly irritated, not pleased with having been summarily evicted from his comfortable home of the last 9 or 10 months.
But he quickly calmed down, and we were pleased that within minutes of life he proved to be an incredibly curious, contemplative, alert newborn. He was fascinated by everyone, unless they put him on the hospital bassinet, or on the scale, which irritated him immensely. He quickly learned that most of the time being in either spot would soon involve a collection of blood or injection of a hepatitis B vaccine or contact with some cold medical instrument. We’re fairly convinced he may never sleep peacefully in a crib again; he certainly hasn’t taken to it in the two months since his birth.
Hiromi’s been unable to sleep more than an hour or so straight since, well, September 5. Hiromi was rooting for our child to be born while her friend, an Ob/Gyn who grew up in the same neighborhood as her, was on a short visit to Seattle during Japan’s Silver Week holidays. Hiromi was convinced going to Bumbershoot together might speed things along.
If that’s true, it’s quite possible that we can credit standing out in the rain listening to Mary J. Blige on the last night of Bumbershoot with Hiromi’s friend with the timely arrival of our child. Not long after we got home that Monday night, Hiromi’s early labor started, and things progressed slowly but steadily thereafter, and she had not a moment’s comfort or rest until the big event.
Hiromi’s friend accompanied us to Swedish’s delivery suite, and my mother arrived just a few hours before Kojiro was born. He’s now a second-generation Swedish baby; I was born in the same hospital, in a different building, almost 37 years ago.
Two months in, we’re starting to settle in to a routine. Our son, however, has not. Maybe in a couple of decades, we’ll start to understand how this parenting thing is supposed to work, but in the meantime, we’re just improvising.
The first time I knowingly ate anything involving stinging nettles was a jarred salsa sold by a Tibetan immigrant family in Seattle. I haven’t seen their products for years, so I’m not really sure what happened to them, but I guess they haven’t single-handedly pushed the bottled stinging nettle sauce industry past the tipping point.
Every spring, I see some forager offering stinging nettles at farmer’s markets, but so far I haven’t been convinced to take any home. Last spring, Hiromi and I had a late night snack at Poppy, where we had an overly salty, innocuously flavored nettle “risotto” which was interesting but seemed not to do much for the nettles or the rice. I was fairly convinced there’s just not much to the nettle but the sting.
But then, a few weeks ago, Hiromi and I decided to have dinner at our neighborhood Basque restaurant, Harvest Vine, which featured a simple sounding nettle soup on the menu. We decided to go for it.
Wow. It was surprisingly deeply flavored. Served chilled, it came with a side of crouton and not much else, but it totally redeemed the nettle for me.
Granted, I suspect that cream and Spanish paprika pulled more weight than the nettles themselves, but we figured that if that’s all it took to make the nettle great, we could pull off something compelling on our own. A few days later, the guys at Sosio’s told me they had a stash of nettles in the back, and I was an easy mark.
I took some of the same basic inspirations as the Harvest Vine version, complete with the smoky paprika, but I wanted to make it my own. When I got home the night we made this, I spent a few minutes stinking up our home grating fresh horseradish root. Hiromi started tearing up the second she got home. I used some of the root for an oil-based vinaigrette that I reserved for other purposes, but I also whipped some of it into some sour cream.
The sour cream topped the nettle soup when the soup was ready to go. It added a great pungency and a refreshing contrast. Apparently, this particular approach is fairly common in Scandinavian and Northern European preparations of the nettle, but I didn’t know any better.
A dirty secret about stinging nettles: they need to be cooked fairly aggressively to remove their, well, sting. They do have a flavor, but it’s not a really intense one; it’s essentially vegetal. More robust than spinach, not as earthy and chewy as lacinato kale, they seem to respond well to being pureed, but they need a little special treatment. I soaked them in warm, but not hot, water for just about 10 minutes. Then I rinsed them, and cooked them down in a pressure cooker for a few minutes. Not only that, but one of the little stems stuck my finger as I was trying to push down the leaves that were in the way of me closing the lid. For the next twenty-four hours, my finger had a strange tingly sensation.
I did ice-water shock them after the pressure cooker to keep them from turning into something unrecognizable, but right after that, they went straight to the blender. Because the puree is a bit rough, I pushed the remaining greens through a sieve to keep the result smooth, and seasoned them with salt and the paprika before adding cream and vegetable stock.
We served the soup with some little crostini brushed with basil olive oil, topped with mozzarella and scallions.
We also had some black beans seasoned with some chilies, lime and coconut milk, and maybe the Indonesian spice blend that we’ve been using from World Spice, if memory serves correctly.
This is why, given a choice, you should either learn to cook or find someone to spend your weekend mornings with who can cook.
Crullers with cinnamon sugar
Crullers have nearly disappeared from the shelves of most donut shops, mostly due to the fact that they’re seen as a bit more labor intensive than ordinary donuts. I find it hard to believe that there no machines exist that could reduce the burden, but the fact that they’re now so hard to find presents opportunities for the industrious home cook.
And here’s the thing: They’re not really that much work. Perhaps they pennies don’t work out when you’re making them on the scale that a bakery would need to, but I was able to go from nothing to having them on the table in about 35 minutes. I only made six, but I’m sure I could have scaled up the recipe to about 24 pieces without adding more than a few minutes work.
This is just a classic pâte à choux with a little added vanilla. I added salt and sugar in roughly the same ratio I would use for cream puffs, with perhaps a bit more salt than usual. I pipe the dough out onto waxed paper. There are a few ways you can pipe them, depending on the visual effect you want; I piped small stars in six segments. An alternative would be to use the star tip, twisting gradually, making one continuous round shape.
After piping, I stuck them in the freezer for just about 10 minutes to firm up, which makes them easier to drop into the fryer. They could have easily been kept in the freezer for a week or so. This time, though, I took advantage of the simplicity of the ratio and made just the amount I thought we’d need, which was about 60 ml water, 30 grams. butter, 30 grams flour, and 60 grams eggs (about 2 whole eggs). This makes slightly more than 6 crullers.
Last winter, the first time I made these, I underestimated how much they would expand in the fryer. The steam pressure causes them to blow up into about four times their original size, so make sure you keep that in mind when shaping them. Think small.
I fried them for about 5 minutes total, flipping them about half way through to let them brown evenly. They continue to darken a bit after they’re pulled from the oil.
This time, I dusted them with sugar mixed with cinnamon and a pinch of salt. They could have just as easily been glazed, or chocolate dipped.
What I really like about crullers is how sweet they aren’t, even after they’re dusted with sugar.
Blood orange scones
Not that long ago, I posted about some very basic scones served with blood orange jam. Hiromi was craving scones for breakfast yesterday. I remembered that I had recently prepared a pseudo-marmalade of blood oranges meant to serve over waffles not that long ago. The leftovers contained only a little liquid, and a lot of blood orange peel.
So I thought I might make good use of them by incorporating them into the basic scone pastry. I placed the peels on a cutting board and chopped them a bit more finely than I had them originally, then added them to the dough just before the final splash of milk that holds them together.
The result? Success! The scones needed only the slightest splash of milk since they still had a little residual liquid from the blood oranges. The blood orange added a great aroma and a little bitterness. I was worried that they’d get a little tough since I was adding another step to the process, but they turned out tender yet crisp, just as I wanted.
Rare only for me, of course. As regular readers know, I’m as close to vegetarian as possible for someone who travels to Japan on a regular basis.
Hiromi’s doctor said she’s got somewhat low iron levels. We’ve been mitigating that a bit with supplements and with a heavier use of beans and darker greens, and Hiromi’s been consuming a fair amount of orange or tangerine juice to help absorption. But it’s a lot easier to deal with this kind of challenge by incorporating more red meat and liver in to a diet than to rely on vegetarian sources of iron, and Hiromi only practices vegetarianism when I cook, and I’m far from dogmatic. So we’ve made some little adjustments.
Cooking is usually my job, though, and since Hiromi usually cleans up after the aftermath of my food, I don’t mind making the occasional carnivorous dish for her benefit.
I took some aniseed, coriander seed, allspice, black pepper, some dried smoky chilies, and the seeds from a couple of cardamom pods and ground them in my spice grinder, then mixed this with a bit of salt. I rubbed the pork with this mixture and some olive oil, then I added the seasoned meat to a hot pressure cooker. I let the meat brown a bit, then turned each piece to brown on at least two other sides. I pulled the browned meat out of the pan and let it rest while sauteeing some onions with some young ginger.
I tossed in some quartered mushrooms with a bit more salt. Finally, I added some rolling-cut carrots and a stick of chopped celery to the mix, completing the mirepoix trinity. Then I added a half cup of read wine and a half cup of water, and restored the meat to the pan. I put the pressure cooker’s lid in place. Once it reached full pressure, I let it cook for 10 minutes.
Hiromi discovered it wasn’t quite perfectly tender when the valve released, so I brought it back to pressure and reduced the temperature to the lowest possible setting that would keep the pressure up. I’m not quite sure how long we let it cook, but it was probably about 25 minutes total.
When the valve released the second time, it seemed ready to serve. When Hiromi tasted it at the table, she reported it was surprisingly tender. We only served about half of it, and it was more than enough with the other dishes we had prepared, so she had a bit leftover for lunch the next day or so.
It was pretty easy to pull off, apparently satisfying enough, and probably no more complicated than anything else we made that night. Braised pork. Pressure cooker. I can work with that.
Last night we visited a friend who had planned a sort of traditional lamb dinner, to be followed by Easter egg decoration. I don’t really remember much about Easter dinners from my childhood, since we focused more on the egg thing, so I brought some gougeres made with Valdeon blue cheese (which I’m sure I’ll make again, but I didn’t take a photo), and pressure-cooked baby artichokes prepared with shallots, Meyer lemons, garlic, butter, olive oil, and a splash of wine, and a broccolini dish.
The one child present fell asleep before we got to the egg decoration, so the adults took over that very important responsibility. We took a few of them home with us for breakfast this morning.
Hiromi made Doraemon. Mine is the ugly one in back. It was supposed to be an owl, but turned out to look more like Frank Zappa.
For breakfast, I made an apple coffee cake with a little allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and grains of paradise. It’s topped with a simple salted butter streusel. I was a little careless, so it turned out slightly underbaked, so it was a bit pudding-like, but still perfectly serviceable. I used very little sugar, so it was more spicy than sweet. Next time, I should let it bake a bit longer.
Hiromi always says that when I’m trying to use up ingredients, the results are often more exciting than when I do something more planned. I think that’s been the case since I was in college, when I would sometimes change course after I started cooking if a particular whim struck me as a good idea.
Usually on weeknights, I’ve got a few ingredients in less than ideal condition that have been sitting around too long. The purple mashed potatoes from my previous entry were in that category, and the ton of bell peppers in that Pope’s bean dish were also completely driven by excess.
I don’t know how many times I’ve made some variation of this simple side, but we always like sautéed green beans. This one had onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, garlic, and smoked paprika, and was made with those skinny so-called French style green beans sometimes called haricots vert. “Green beans” apparently sound much more sophisticated when rendered literally in French.
Normally I don’t attempt to make anything remotely like insalata caprese this time of year, but we had some better-than-average-for-this-time-of-year strawberry tomatoes, which are slightly larger than cherry tomatoes and a bit more flavorful. If I were a little more industrious, I might have roasted them a bit first, but this was still pretty good for a completely out-of-season dish. I’d be a little embarrassed to serve this for company, as the tomatoes were a lot more tart than they were sweet, but they beat anything you’d find in a supermarket this time of year.
These Peruvian beans, called fagioli del papa in Italian, have a robust flavor and a dramatic color. This was just a quick-and-dirty weeknight preparation, so I don’t even remember exactly how I seasoned it, but I know I used za’atar, onions, garlic, and a mix of bell peppers, along with a touch of tomato. I boiled the beans themselves with a few allspice berries and bay leaves, just enough to make the beans a bit more mysterious but not so much as to compete with the final seasoning.
Anyway, we liked the results, even with fairly odd combination of ingredients.
I rescued a few lonely purple potatoes that had been sitting neglected, almost forgotten, in a brown paper bag. After boiling them, I pressed them through a potato ricer, and brought them back to my smallest sauce pan to cook them with a little butter and salt. I stirred in milk gradually, then I finished them off with an unhealthy dose of medium-aged gouda.
I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes look interesting, but this version was fun, and like with any other version, butter does most of the work. Milk softens the color quite a bit, so the result leaned a bit lavender.
The puree, while not especially pretty, was surprisingly smooth. I usually don’t stir mashed potatoes much after ricing them, for fear of turning them into glue, but I must have gotten the temperature just right, because they were almost impossibly creamy. Despite the suggestion of the little pat of butter on top used to finish them, I used only a couple of tablespoons of butter in the puree itself, for about a half pound of potatoes. Good and simple.
Ganmodoki, a deep-fried tofu dumpling, are kind of a staple of Kyoto-style tofu cuisine, and find their way into nimono, among other things. I’ve made them before, but this time, I took a slightly different route.
Inspired by a crazy cheap deal on burdock root at Rising Sun Produce in Seattle’s International District, I decided to emulate a soup Hiromi and I tried years ago at Del Cook, a French restaurant in a rural extension of Osaka in the Nose valley, made with Japanese burdock root, called gobo.
I took bunch of burdock roots and roasted them in the oven with a bit of salt until the burdock softened up a bit, probably around 20-30 minutes. Then I broke out the blender and busted up the roasted roots with some milk and vegetable soup stock. The process took a bit longer than I would have liked, but even after all that pureeing, I discovered that the texture of the mixture was far chewier than I’d want in bisque-like soup. At first, in denial, I tried pressing on, seasoning the liquid with salt and some “Balinese Seasoning” that I first discovered at World Spice Merchants a few months ago, cooked in a bit of butter. But I realized chewy wasn’t going to work for this, and I needed to find some workaround.
So I pushed the liquid through a sieve, extracting as much as I could manage. I realized I had a lot of burdock fiber that might still be put to good use. If we eat all this roughage in kimpira-gobo, there must be some way to make it edible, right? That’s when ganmodoki came to mind. I got myself a block of momen-doufu, medium-firm tofu, broke it up, and mixed it with the solids from my sieving efforts, along with black and white sesame seeds. The ratio was probably about 1:1 burdock fiber and tofu, without considering the seasonings. Even before I fried them, the mixture tasted pretty nice, so I had some confidence that things would work out. The chewy texture that had caused me consternation in the soup was nicely mitigated by the custardy texture of the tofu, and in a solid form, whatever fiber in the texture remained was far less disconcerting.
Using a couple of spoons, I made small balls out of the solids and placed them into the deep fryer.
I was surprised at how deeply the ganmodoki browned. There’s a touch of sugar in the spice blend I used, and probably a reasonable amount of sugar in burdock root itself, but I have never had this kind of result when making more conventional ganmodoki. Even deeply browned, the little balls were pretty tender inside, and just barely held together.
I modified the soup from my original plan, incorporating some pureed cannelini for protein, so in many ways, save for my use of burdock root in place of the cheddar in the version of the soup that was recently featured in Seattle’s Japanese newspaper, Soy Source, it was not a huge departure from that. The roasted burdock totally transforms the flavor from rich to earthy, so they’re certainly not identical. Certainly, the little tweaks are proof that you can make very small changes to a dish and turn it into something nearly unrecognizable. The white beans contributed protein and some iron to a dish that would otherwise best serve as a small side dish, making it a more substantial part of dinner.
To serve, I ladled the liquid into onion soup bowls, and placed three pieces of the “gobodoki” (half gobo, half ganmodoki) on top. I was convinced Hiromi would groan at my bad Japanese wordplay when I unabashedly mashed two unrelated words together, but she embraced the name unreservedly.
To finish, I topped the soup with deep-fried, salt-sprinkled burdock root. We served it with some gnocchi alla romana, which I’ll try to feature in a future post. A little bread and a nice green vegetable side dish would make a nice alternative.
I really like the Balinese seasoning spice mixture that in my cream-style soups. I have no idea if it even resembles anything actually used in Indonesia, but that’s beside the point; the dishes I’ve made with it so far simply aren’t indigenous to any particular country, so I feel free to do whatever tastes good. I dig the shallot, lemongrass and peanut base notes that it provides in anything creamy. There’s a little cinnamon, white pepper, and chili in there, and a hint of dried ginger, so it adds a little magic to anything it touches.
The last couple of weekends we’ve been taking advantage of the fiddlehead fern fronds found at Sosio’s. Go get them before they disappear for the rest of the year!
We’ve been preparing them using our usual nimono-style treatment… Blanch briefly in a boiling solution of water and baking soda to remove aku, or bitterness, shock in ice water, then gently poach in dashi (or really, any soup stock), soy sauce, sake, a little mirin, and, if needed, additional salt and sugar.
Maybe I’ll do them another way before the season ends, but somehow this simple version pleases me the most.
I’ve written about them before, but the easiest flavor comparison to make is to white asparagus. They’re slightly bitter, as you’d expect from white asparagus, and some of the sweetness and you’d expect from asparagus, but they have a bit more of a foresty aroma.
They usually only have a 4-8 week run, depending on factors that I don’t yet know how to predict. I think they’ve come in a bit early this year, as I’ve gradually been trained to expect them sometime in April. But if morels can be early, so can warabi. In any event, if you want to give them a try, get them while you can.
For years, I was impressed more by the idea of scones than the reality of scones. It’s mostly because I made the mistake of buying them at coffee shops, where they cost about $3 and generally taste stale and tough and excessively sweet. They typically rather unimpressively attempt to make up for their inadequacies, especially the fact that they aren’t served with good butter and jam, by replacing all of the textural greatness of a fresh scone with sugar.
Freshly-baked scones are an entirely different animal. They’re aromatic, crisp yet tender, and need very little sugar of their own if served with a little butter and jam. The best thing is that they need so little effort to prepare. The dough comes together in two or three minutes, and they take just 20-25 minutes to bake. It’s easier than pie.
This morning, we woke up late and hungry. I was almost tempted to make a trip to a bakery, but then I realized I would have to shower and shave before I was fully awake, and that would make Sunday morning seem far too much like a normal workday for anyone’s good. To arrange for fresh scones, I just needed to stumble into the kitchen, preheat the oven, and pull together a few simple ingredients.
I follow a simple ratio to get decent scones no matter what I put into them: 1 stick of butter, 1.5 cups of flour, about a teaspoon of baking powder, 1 egg, and a little bit of milk, yogurt, cream, or sometimes sour cream. I almost always add a bit of salt, and for sweet scones, I add probably no more than 3 tablespoons sugar. Today, I had a nice orange in the refrigerator, so I grated about a teaspoon’s worth of zest to flavor the scones. A little vanilla would be nice, too.
The dry ingredients just need to be sifted together and the butter cut in gently. When I get this far, I make a well in the middle, and I add the egg and a splash of milk. I stir the liquid in the well and gently fold the ingredients until the mass comes together.
Then I just roll out the scones to an even thickness, cut them into small triangles, and bake them. To make them a little prettier, I brush them with a little egg wash and sprinkle on pearled sugar, but that’s totally optional.
The scones just need to be baked at around 375F until they look nice and gently browned, usually about 20-25 minutes.
They’re buttery enough when fresh out of the oven that we usually don’t do more than eat them with some nice jam unless we’ve got some truly spectacular butter or some Devon cream around. Today, we cracked open a blood orange gelée-style jam that we found in a little tea shop in Hannover, Germany over the New Year holiday. This jam, which is flavored with a little Cointreau, had a nice complexity and I may steal the idea if I ever take up canning.
The moral of the story: Don’t settle for bad scones. Just make them yourself, and they’ll be miles above the quality of nearly anything you can buy.
So I’ve had this dangerous affinity for meringues in the last year or so. I like them on cakes and pies, I like them on savory dishes, and I sometimes like them all by themselves.
This occasionally results in something approaching culinary genius, but more often than not, something goes slightly wrong. The most common problem is usually my piping effort. My technical mastery of piping can, more often than not, be fairly compared to the artistry of a six year old. Occasionally I just over-bake them by a few minutes and they come out far too dark.
This one decided to explode.
You may not see it here, because I tried to find the best possible angle, but my meringue mostly deflated before it ever finished baking. It spread out more than it puffed up.
In fact, it’s technically more of a soufflé than a meringue. What I did was roast a Japanese sweet potato, slice it in half lengthwise, and scoop out a good amount of flesh, which I mashed. Then I mixed the mashed flesh with egg yolk while the flesh was still warm. Separately, I beat egg whites into a meringue, adding a small amount of sugar and a heavy pinch of salt. Then I gently folded the sweet potatoes back into the meringue, and filled the scooped out part of the potato with the mixture. To finish it off, I piped a bit more of the mixture on top with a star tip, and sprinkled black sesame seeds on top. I then baked the dish at about 375F until it was nicely browned.
I think I used a bit too much egg white. But the result, even if a bit ugly and quite technically flawed, tasted pretty nice. I added enough salt to the mixture to make this a savory side dish rather than a dessert, but you could certainly adjust the preparation to make it work either way.
Done right, it could look quite elegant, but I’m almost happy with my admittedly rustic results. It’s a little wafuu without being something you’d typically find in most Japanese mothers’ repertoires, and compatible with both Japanese and American taste sensibilities.
Next time, I want to make some adjustments to improve the stability of the foam. But it’ll go on one of my menus again.
I’ve had a few brushes with fleeting, mostly inconsequential fame.
My very first letter to the editor was published when I was about 14 years old in Knoxville, Tennessee. Something that was ostensibly my own writing, heavily edited, was first “published” in a computer magazine when I was about 15 years old, for which I received about $50. During college I was quoted in the West Coast edition of USA Today because I said some silly but, well, quotable thing about the 1992 Vice Presidential debates in the Media Fellows lounge at my university, which happened to be Dan Quayle’s Alma Mater. I had a few decent articles and some not so great ones published in my college newspaper and in a Seattle Asian American newspaper. Once I was even featured in a Japanese newspaper in Japan for dressing up as Santa Claus at a friend’s family’s nursery school. And, of course, when I started my business, a few local papers published an article or two about my project.
Photo source: Soy Source, shot by Hiro Yamada. I’m on the right side.
But I’ve never been featured in a newspaper just for doing the most ordinary of things… making a nice lunch.
This week Hiromi and I were in a local Japanese newspaper called Soy Source, which was doing a feature called “Otoko no ryouri,” or Men’s Cuisine, featuring four different Seattle-area men who cook, and who presumably have some sort of connection to Japan. Teruyo Koshimaya, an editor at the paper, and Hiro Yamada, a photographer and member of my Japanese speaking social group, dropped by for lunch about a week and a half ago, and I made a few dishes while we chatted about food, travel, ceramics, work and other things.
I served a potato-based focaccia topped with mizuna pesto (later used in this fettucini and morel dish), a simple blanched broccolini topped with hot browned shallots, garlic, and good balsamic vinegar, a marinated mushroom dish, and a cannelini-cheddar soup topped with fried gobo (burdock root). Nothing turned into a disaster, which is always the thing I worry about when I have unusual amounts of attention paid to my food…
Two recipes, which are probably approximations of what I made because I almost never work from exact recipes and I had to estimate quantities, were included here (in Japanese) as a sidebar to the article. I did try to measure things out somewhat carefully, so they shouldn’t be too far off.
It was a lot of fun. I look forward to someday being semi-famous again.
No matter how hard we try, the two of us cannot eat a large pot of what amounts to be little more than mashed potatoes, regardless how many greens are involved.
So I decided to repurpose the leftovers a little bit. I melted some butter in a 6” skillet and added a spice blend (Kashmiri garam masala, I think) and turmeric, then poured it over the remaining colcannon in the refrigerator. I also added some frozen peas.
I improvised a dough by rubbing some of flour and salt with a bit of butter, then added just enough water to combine. I worked the dough together and let it rest for a while in the refrigerator.
I then rolled out the dough and cut it into small pieces, and Hiromi and I got to work stuffing them.
The first night I prepared them as just a little snack to go along with a couple of other dishes, but tonight I noticed I had some ungracefully aging pears in the refrigerator, and thought I should make quick use of them before something nefarious happened. I put together a simple chutney built on fenugreek, allspice, a little black pepper, and coriander, along with some fresh young ginger, onions, and a couple of fresh chilies, along with a bit of salt and unrefined sugar.
A couple of nights ago, I prepared some cranberry beans with some Chinese spices like star anise and some large white seed I’ve never learned the name of, and some fennel seed. I thought I was going to use these as a little bean side dish that never quite happened. By the time I needed them again, I had a far different craving, so I mashed the beans with some egg, flour and breadcrumbs, and pan-browned them in a nonstick omelet pan with a little oil. (They could just as easily be deep fried).
I was ever-so-slightly worried that the vaguely Chinese seasoning of the beans would fight with the vaguely Indian seasoning of the chutney, but actually they worked quite nicely together. The star anise and fennel added a nice depth to the bites of the cranberry bean cakes, and the chutney added a nice gently-fiery sweetness. We also found that the baby spinach underneath, motivated mostly by color, proved to be an useful utensil for carrying the bean cakes to our mouths, and added a little textural contrast.
We self-indulgently bought a pasta roller last summer. It’s a single-purpose device, and I don’t have many items like that, at least not when they take up as much room as that, but pasta is a staple food for us and I wanted to have a tool that made it easier to produce pasta of a consistent thickness and texture.
I’m still not quite at the level where I’m going to beat anyone’s Italian nonna if we undertook some sort of pasta death match, but it’s surprising how little practice is required to develop perfectly respectable results.
One of the guys at Sosio’s happens to go to the same gym I do, and he’s there nearly every day. He noticed me fighting the dumbbells little over a week ago and told me I needed to come in and get some morels, which seem to have come in a bit early this year. So I went in on the weekend and grabbed some.
I thought it was a good excuse to break out the pasta maker. It’s really not too time-consuming to make a small amount of pasta, at least in the amount required to serve 2-4 people, so it’s even manageable on a weeknight. The only difficult thing is allowing the prepared dough to rest 30-60 minutes before attempting to roll it out. If you don’t do that, it fights with you, and you get these crazy holes inexplicable places. But once it’s reasonably well rested, the gluten in the semolina relaxes and the dough cooperates nicely. It just requires a little patience, and, when possible, another pair of helpful hands.
We had plenty of pesto I prepared for a lunch meeting on Sunday afternoon. The particular pesto I made was not prepared from the usual Genovese ingredient of basil, however. I turned to mizuna, a Japanese green with a flavor similar to, but slightly brighter than arugula. This is one of my favorite versions of pesto, and turns out to be ever so slightly cheaper than the basil version, since it comes in roughly one-pound bundles for $2.80 at Uwajimaya; I usually have to pay at least $4/pound for basil when I buy it in bulk, if not more, and it’s crazy expensive when purchased on those obnoxious $3 one-ounce plastic containers at the supermarket. So it not only makes a refreshing change of pace; it’s also surprisingly frugal.
I suppose that’s kind of moot after paying for morels, but they were surprisingly inexpensive for ones sold so early in the season. I’ve paid more in the peak of the harvest in past years, so we must have a particularly prolific crop in store.
Under the more relaxed conditions of weekend pasta-making, I like to let the rolled and cut pasta dry out a touch, maybe an hour or so, before I try to boil it, but for fettucini, it’s not really necessary. We once tried the spaghetti cutter on a weeknight and tried to serve that with a tomato sauce before letting it dry at all after cutting, and we produced something very similar to ramen-shop ramen instead of spaghetti. I might be wrong, but my limited experience seems to tell me that, when under time constraints, wider noodles like fettuccini or tagliatelle work better.
The morels were just cooked with a generous knob of butter and salt as the pasta cooked. I drained the pasta after cooking it for 2-3 minutes in salted water, leaving just a touch of water in the pan, and tossed the pasta, morels and mizuna pesto together until combined.
It’s best served hot, and pesto cools quickly, so get it right out there on the table and eat!
We had it with a nice serving of lentil soup, which was part of dinner a couple of times last week, and maybe a little salad.
There’s not much of a recipe, as it was really about having everything around when I needed it and adjusting seasoning as required, but the mizuna pesto goes a little something like this:
2/3 of a bundle of mizuna, about 300g (2/3 lb)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons raw pine nuts
Good extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 50g)
Toast pine nuts gently about 5-6 minutes on low heat in a pan. Set aside to cool.
Wash mizuna. Remove sprout from garlic, if present, to avoid unwanted bitterness. Add mizuna to a blender with garlic, pine nuts, and a little olive oil. Pulse the blender with the "chop" mode (medium speed). Add additional olive oil through the lid opening until an emulsion forms. You should still see small pieces of mizuna, but all the leaves should be broken.
As a vegetarian, I don’t eat the most common variations of okonomiyaki, which involve pork or other animal bits.
I’m quite fine with the “modern yaki”, as one Tokyo restaurant called their wackier, contemporary spins on the dish; okonomiyaki is really a modern dish itself, and crazy variations are totally in keeping with the convention. One of the first two versions I ever tasted involved chunks of cheese mixed in the batter, and that suits me just fine. But one aspect I haven’t given serious thought to is a suitable replacement, either visually or in terms of flavor, for the katsuo-bushi, shaved dried skipjack tuna that is nearly always sprinkled on top.
Until now. I made fried shaved burdock root (gobo chips) for an unrelated purpose earlier in the day, and had some left over. Since we had a really heavy lunch at Lunchbox Laboratory earlier in the day, and some snacks for a photography gathering on Sunday, we decided to go with ostensibly lighter fare for dinner. Or rather, as light as a savory pancake covered with mayonnaise can be. Mine had an overdose of kizami-shouga (pickled matchstick cut ginger), because I can, and pieces of aged cheddar and gruyere inside.
I’ve certainly done other versions of this, but the gobo worked very well. Obviously the burdock is a lot earthier than katsuo and doesn’t have the same kind of aroma as the katsuo, but it’s sliced thin and adds a nice crisp texture that works really well. It’s also at least as visually interesting as the katsuobushi.
Hiromi had a pork craving, so we made a more conventional version for her. This one was basically chopped pieces of pork loin cooked with salt and pepper in the frying pan briefly before the cabbage mixture is added. It’s also made with the usual pickled ginger, but more importantly, this version has the standard katsuo-bushi topping (but Hiromi wanted some of the burdock too, because there’s nothing quite as dangerous as fried gobo).
Katsuobushi placed on top of hot okonomiyaki has one visual advantage, only recognizable with full-motion video or by sitting right there at the table when it’s served. The extreme thinness and large surface area plays with the heat from the pancake, and the dried fish writhes and dances around as the okonomiyaki cools.
We have a somewhat implicit bias favoring simple, seasonal food that requires minimal forethought, but generally I’m willing to do a bit more work to step up the drama.
But it’s nice when it’s really just a little extra work.
Gefüllte Mangoldblätter, or stuffed Swiss chard, appearing in many German cookbooks when I lived there, but I’m pretty sure I never once made it myself in the entire time that I was in the country. It’s not so much that I was intimidated; I suppose i just didn’t see the point. Or maybe I just didn’t know what to do with the vegetable when I saw it.
Hiromi has a strong affection for rolled cabbage, though, so it was inevitable that I’d eventually apply the same treatment to Swiss chard. Actually, we’ve probably done it before, but I can’t quite remember when, so I’m going to say it’s still new to us.
Hiromi trimmed the leaves and we blanched the chard briefly, giving it just about one minute in the boiling water before draining and transferring to a big bowl of ice water to stop the color change.
I prepared a filling inspired loosely by Hiromi’s preferred style of ganmodoki, which has some black and white toasted sesame in it. I basically sauteed some nira (a sort of Asian chive commonly used in Japanese-style gyoza) and diced shiitake with a couple of serious spoons full of black and white sesame seeds, and. Once the mushrooms were suitably browned, I added this mixture to some crumbled medium-firm momen tofu and stirred everything together. Hiromi stuffed the leaves, and skewered them with short kushi, or kebab sticks, to hold them together.
I made a simple vegetable stock just before we had gotten started on this, using a mirepoix as a foundation, so the last bit came together quickly. In a saucepan I lightly browned shallots and added stock, a little splash of wine, and salt and pepper and maybe a few other herbs.
We then put the stuffed chard rolls into the saucepan just for a couple of minutes to let everything mingle together, and we served them.
The robustness of the chard turns out to help the rolls stay together; they were far less fragile than the cabbage variants we’ve made before. The sesame, shiitake, nira and fresh tofu in the filling removed most of the commonality with all but the most contemporary of German versions, but provided a great source of flavor, and was comforting for the Japanese half of the family. And the shallot-enhanced broth married the earthy chard together with the savory filling.
I’d say I prefer this version over the vegetarian cabbage rolls I’ve previously made, since the wrapping itself is a star player; cabbage tends to be much less assertively flavored, and probably wants even more powerfully seasoned fillings. I felt like I could have gotten away with a slightly milder filling compared to what we ended up with, but it turned out just about right.
OK, I’m a little late getting around to posting St. Patrick’s Day food, but let’s just say we were busy eating.
While my family tends to identify mostly with the small ostensibly Italian fragment of our ethnicity, mostly thanks to the way most of us look, and our attachment to Italian foods, we’re actually far more Irish than we are Italian. So it’s probably unfair to ignore that part of our background entirely.
I’m not a beer guy, so there was no green beer for us, and for various reasons which I’ll explain at some other point, Hiromi’s not drinking. So, just for me, I went with a traditional recipe of Irish whiskey (on ice since it was just Bushmill’s), much like this guy.
I’m also not a meat eater, so the conventional Irish American corned beef and cabbage was out.
But there are a few semi-Irish things I can eat.
I had a lentil soup leftover from a previous dinner, so I figured I’d just use that as a protein and make an Irish soda bread and something resembling colcannon.
We didn’t have much in the way of kale or cabbage, and I’m not much of a purist when it comes to unplanned attempts at ambiguously Irish themed meals, so I took advantage of what I did have on hand: mizuna greens, scallions, and bok choy. Mizuna doesn’t love being cooked to death, so I chose to break with tradition and just work the greens into the hot mashed potatoes, rather than precooking the greens. I also threw in a bit of garlic because I didn’t have quite enough scallions around to fully flavor the dish.
I did want to give the greens some heat, though, so I let the mixture bake, covered, in a hot oven for about 15 minutes, after adding suitably heart-challenging amounts of butter and cream.
The greens maintained a bit of crunch, which is certainly very different than the standard versions of this dish, but provided a nicely refreshing contrast
The Irish soda bread was more conventional: butter, buttermilk, flour, baking soda, salt, maybe a touch of sugar.
I may have baked it just a tad too long, but it still had a great aroma and it looked quite nice upon slicing.
We served the bread with a nice Tickler cheddar and some good Vermont Butter, the soda bread was crusty with a pleasingly tender crumb.
The lentil soup could perhaps pass for Irish, but it’s probably a bit of a stretch since it involved fair amounts of an orange peel and tarragon blend and a bit of smoky chilies.
The downside is that this was a fairly heavy meal for a weeknight, and fairly heavy on the carbohydrates. But I guess that’s authentic enough: When I visited Ireland on a business trip many years ago, I overheard the staff at the company cafeteria asking people if they wanted “chips with that” no matter what they ordered. Including pasta. And in one case, a baked potato. So yeah, we were Irish like that.
We had a nice dinner tonight, but it wasn’t terribly heavy, and I was craving something sweet to finish the evening.
I was thinking a thin cookie would do the trick, so I remembered the basic tuile ratio, which is roughly 2 fat : 2 flour : 1 sugar : 1 egg white. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any skinny almonds around, but I did have some almond butter handy, and I had a surplus of egg whites left over after making hollandaise sauce a few nights ago. I decided to use a blend of butter and almond butter so that I’d have a touch more flavor than if I skipped using nuts entirely. I also added a touch of vanilla and a bit of salt.
The best thing about these is how quickly they come together. They just need to be spread out as evenly as possible on a non-stick, flexible surface… A Silpat-style mat or baking paper would do the trick.
At the last possible second before baking, I realized I had some hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas) in the freezer, so I sprinkled a few on top before baking in the oven at 425F (400F in convection mode) for somewhere around 8-10 minutes, basically stopping when the edges were nicely browned.
For a little drama, I bent them around a rolling pin just after pulling them off the baking sheet.
They made a nice little treat. Give them a try! There’s a lot of room for variation. One of my favorites incorporates black sesame seeds, somewhat in the same vein as these financiers. I’ve also made an aniseed version that works great as an ice cream cup; just spread them out as rounds and pinch over a small teacup. They’re great with tea or coffee, too.
I recently mentioned my weakness for the seductive smokiness of Spanish paprika. It turns out that, in my kitchen, precious little of my supply ever makes it into anything remotely resembling proper Spanish cuisine. But there are occasional exceptions.
While seasoned chickpea and tomato dishes are rather common in pretty much every country that’s ever seen both ingredients, one of my favorite preparations is a Moorish-style preparation full of Spanish paprika.
Even within that realm, I’m sure there are a ton of variants. Some are garlicky, some are mostly seasoned with onions, and a few of them incorporate additional greens like spinach. I like them all. If it’s on a tapas menu, I’m a guaranteed sucker for it… We’ve ordered versions at Txori in Seattle, at Jaleo on a recent trip to DC, and probably anywhere else we’ve seen it.
Granted, it’s a humble dish, and maybe a bit homely, but it’s a fantastic way of adding a bit of protein to a cuisine which isn’t heavy on purely vegetarian protein options, aside from Spanish tortillas and various cheeses.
I did this version sans garlic and perhaps overemphasized the tomatoes. Thanks to Jaleo’s menu I stumbled on to the brilliant suggestion of topping it with a sunny-side-up egg. I cleverly forgot to butter the egg ring, so it’s not quite as pretty as it might be.
Thanks to the pressure cooker we picked up this winter, the dish comes together rather quickly. Precook the chickpeas to the point that they are soft, but not mushy. If you want garlic, toast a clove or two in olive oil gently until the garlic is just slightly browned. I then add plenty of chopped onions to the pan and cook them until transparent. Once the onions are nice and soft, I throw in a little splash of wine and add chopped or pureed tomatoes, a serious pinch of Spanish paprika (don’t waste your money on the not-at-all-similar Hungarian style paprika for this dish), salt and pepper, and the mostly-cooked chickpeas. Simmer until you’re ready to eat them, but not less than 15 minutes.
For something more verde, add blanched spinach just a minute or two before serving.
Someone may eventually convince me otherwise, but I’m pretty sure that most wild Northwest mushrooms benefit the most from a minimalist treatment.
I’ve found no better confirmation of this than the chanterelle, and the similar, but slightly homelier hedgehog mushroom.
The most reliably pleasing treatment of these mushrooms, for me, requires only four ingredients and a little attention to detail. I mince a shallot, coarsely chop the hedgehog (or chanterelle) mushrooms, and stick these straight into a small, hot cast-iron skillet. In just seconds, you see an unlikely amount of water emerge from nowhere.
After the water cooks off, add life-endangering quantities of good butter, and some nice salt. I love to use alderwood smoked salt that I pick up at World Spice Merchants below the market in Seattle, but this time I used a fennel salt that I prepared myself. Fennel salt is exactly what it sounds like: equal portions fennel seeds and coarse salt, ground in a spice grinder until the fennel turns into little specks. If you want something fancier, give this one from Ritrovo a try; it’s got fennel pollen, whatever that is, and a few other herbs and spices, and it’s very good, but it’s also $15 or so a jar. Fennel and most of the herbs in that mix are not usually more than $3 an ounce.
You may want to add a little pepper, and maybe a touch of freshly ground nutmeg. If you don’t have fennel around, it can’t hurt to use a bit of fresh thyme.
Cook the mushrooms until they’re slightly caramelized, and serve.
Hedgehog mushrooms and chanterelles are picky about how they are cooked. If you make the mistake of adding the butter to the pan before adding the mushrooms, you’ll find that the moisture never quite disappears and you waste crazy amounts of money buying wild mushrooms only to end up with a rubbery mess. If you wait to add the fat until they’re slightly dry, you get magic. Personally, I prefer magic.